Encompassing 21 seasons and 450 episodes, “The Simpsons” is the longest-running sitcom in television history, and this January 10th, Fox will culminate its year-long celebration of the classic cartoon's 20th anniversary with a documentary special by Super Size Me director and star Morgan Spurlock. Diehard fans already know that “The Simpsons” pioneered a subversive style of animal rights comedy never before seen on the small screen. So, at the dawn of a new decade deluged with Top 10 lists, I decided to pay this prime-time program homage by showcasing the 10 best animal-centric “Simpsons” episodes (so far, in chronological order).
1. Episode 1: “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” – In the series premiere, Homer loses the family's Christmas money betting at the dog track, but then brings home the best present ever — a rescued racing greyhound named Santa's Little Helper. Laugh Line (Homer to Bart, who wants to adopt the abandoned dog his father bet on): “But he's a loser. He's pathetic! He's...a Simpson.”
2. Episode 29: “Bart's Dog Gets an F” – The family's misbehaving canine attends obedience school, where Bart refuses to implement the draconian instructor's pain-based training methods. Laugh Line (Bart): “Now...Sit! I said, Sit! Um, take a walk. Sniff that other dog's butt. See? He does exactly what I tell him.”
3. Episode 43: “Lisa's Pony” – Homer finally grants his 8-year-old daughter's wish for a pony, but she relinquishes her beloved horse after learning that dad must work nights to pay for expensive stabling. Laugh Line (Homer): “Marge, with today's gasoline prices, we can't afford not to buy a pony!”
4. Episode 54: “Dog of Death” – After Santa's Little Helper runs away from home, infamously villainous billionaire tyrant Mr. Burns plucks him from the pound and turns him into a vicious attack hound — but his love for Bart ultimately overcomes his killer conditioning. Laugh Line (Ben Caseyesque veterinarian): “I love animals. I spend my life saving them, and they can't thank me. Well, the parrots can.”
5. Episode 79: “Whacking Day” – Each May, the town of Springfield observes a traditional holiday that entails beating snakes to a pulp with clubs, but Bart and Lisa are able to save the serpents' lives with the help of soul crooner Barry White's earth-shaking basso profundo. Laugh Line (“Whacking Day” song sung by children's choir): “Oh Whacking Day, oh Whacking Day! Our hallowed snake-skull cracking day! We'll break their backs, gouge out their eyes; their evil hearts we'll pulverize! Oh Whacking Day, oh Whacking Day! May God bestow His grace on thee!”
6. Episode 98: “Bart Gets an Elephant” – Bart wins a real live pachyderm from a radio call-in show, but “Stampy” proves a neighborhood hazard, so Bart and Lisa must persuade Homer to send his colossal pal to a sanctuary instead of selling him to an ivory dealer. Laugh Line (Homer): “Lisa, a guy who's got lots of ivory is less likely to hurt Stampy than a guy whose ivory supplies are low.”
7. Episode 133: “Lisa the Vegetarian” – Lisa gives up eating meat, but almost cracks under constant ridicule at home and school — until a pep talk by Paul and Linda McCartney puts her back on the righteous path. Laugh Line (“Actor” Troy McClure, in an “educational” filmstrip): “Don't kid yourself, Jimmy. If that cow ever got the chance, he'd eat you and everyone you care about!”
8. Episode 249: “Treehouse of Horror XI” – In a Free Willy parody, Lisa emancipates a captive bottlenose dolphin named Snorky from an exploitive marine park — but the deposed “King of the Dolphins” then enslaves humanity for banishing his kind to the sea eons ago. Laugh Line (Snorky): “They made me do tricks like a common seal!”
9. Episode 252: “Lisa the Tree Hugger” – Trying to win the affections of über-activist Jessie Grass, Lisa (channelling Julia Butterfly) refuses to disembark from an ancient redwood until it is spared from logging. Laugh Line (Jessie): “I'm a level-five vegan — I won't eat anything that casts a shadow.”
10. Episode 417: “Apocalypse Cow” – Bart joins 4H to drive cool combine harvesters, but winds up having to save the calf he raised from butchery — with a cow-costumed Homer nearly being killed in a fully-automated slaughterhouse. Laugh Line (Bart): “Sorry, Lis, I can't be a vegetarian — I love the taste of death!”
Hope you enjoy these amazingly amusing episodes — and learn more about “The Simpsons” at thesimpsons.com!